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Life Changing Is ... Exploring Creativity

Jenna S., MA, ATR, Art Therapist

"Being able to explore and experience is how you're going to express yourself."

Jenna believes in the power of art and creativity. And she knows creativity is different for everyone.

A former art teacher, Jenna now is an art therapist in UPMC Western Psychiatric's Creative and Expressive Arts Therapy Department. The department includes therapists in many different art mediums — art, dance/movement, music, recreation, and more. Their goal is to help people who might not be able to express their feelings through words.

"Often, our words are not enough to express the emotions that we feel inside," she says. "We provide another tool, another outlet, to be able to express those deep feelings that sometimes we don't even have the knowledge to express verbally."

Each person has their own story and their own relationship to art and creativity. Jenna works with people of all ages, from children to older adults. She tries to help them explore their creative side.

There is no right or wrong answer to creativity, she believes.

"Creativity is gray," she says. "Being able to explore and experience is how you're going to express yourself. That is the heart of it. So, a lot of the time, I focus on redefining creativity for patients."

Jenna says she's "notorious for making my patients get messy." One of her favorite projects is paint pouring. It involves pouring different-colored paints into a cup and pouring it onto a canvas board.

"You just see how the colors blend and flow," she says. "It's relinquishing control because we have very little control in this world. It's learning to find comfort in chaos and beauty in mess, and it can be extremely therapeutic.

"It teaches us that we have to go with that flow sometimes."

At the same time, Jenna says she doesn't force art on anyone. She knows some people may not feel comfortable. So, she tries to be as encouraging as possible when working with people and tries to find their comfort zone.

“Mental health is not a cookie-cutter thing," she says. "There is no right way to go about it. There really is no wrong way to go about it. It is simply what is going to fit those patients in that moment."

Jenna says she believes no emotion is bad. Even anger, fear, or sadness have their benefits. Art therapy provides an opportunity for people to express their emotions, learn coping skills, and relax.

"We're breaking down those boundaries of discomfort or restlessness, or anxiety," she says. "And we can connect just as people."

At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means finding a connection in different ways.

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